System needs streamlining

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 1995, 12:00am

THE Liquor Licensing Board takes its responsibilities seriously. Board members accompanied members of the Urban Council on an arduous tour of Australia to study licensing procedures there and drew some useful lessons from the Australian experience. Board chairman Mr San Stephen Wong Hon-ching yesterday listed the lessons: premises should be required to display their liquor licences; more controls are needed on underage drinking; prospective licensees should have the law explained to them.

The board says the fact finding-mission cost $600,000. Hong Kong's travel and entertainment industries, not to mention residents and tourists in search of a drink, might be forgiven for wondering if the money might have been better spent examining the Hong Kong experience. Businesses can wait for months for a liquor licence even after meeting the requirements of the Urban Services, fire services and buildings departments.

Liquor-licensing regulations are an important element in limiting the proliferation of vice establishments and other premises associated with triad organisations. The board says it normally takes only six weeks to approve a licence application, but if a week is a long time in politics, six weeks is an age in the Hong Kong entertainment business. Restaurateurs and club owners paying the imaginative rents charged in entertainment districts need to build up a large turnover quickly. They might not fully appreciate the bureaucratic niceties that prevent the Liquor Licensing Board getting to work before all the other relevant government agencies have had their say.

The board has not displayed much enthusiasm for streamlining its procedures and reducing the waiting time for licences. The Government, however, should recognise the unreasonable nature of the delays experienced by would-be restaurateurs. It would not require another demanding tour of Australia to trim the red tape that is constraining the development of Hong Kong's entertainment business, and the Government should not delay.